Burma: Desperate female victims of 2008 Cyclone Nargis fall easy prey to sex and wife traffickers Print E-mail

 Burma-Thailand ~ Monday, May 3, 2010

Human Traffickers Exploit Nargis Aftermath


RANGOON: ­Thousands of women in the Irrawaddy delta, most victims of Cyclone Nargis who still face enormous hardships two years after the storm ravaged the region, have been targeted by human traffickers, according to social workers.

“Many of them [young women in the Irrawaddy delta] don't want to stay in a place that has no job opportunities, as they face many difficulties for their daily survival,” said a social worker at the Karen Women's Action Group. “They want to move to a new place to find work and a better life.”

A girl carries a basin on her head near a cyclone shelter outside Pyar Pon township on May 2. (Photo: Reuters)
Under these circumstances, social workers say conditions are ripe for exploitation by human traffickers, and according to a social worker at INGO, a Rangoon-based agency, many women, including teenagers, from Nargis-hit regions have been smuggled to different cities or even neighboring countries through various channels.

“Since Cyclone Nargis ripped into the Irrawaddy delta, killing tens of thousands and tearing families apart, many young women were trafficked to cities and forced to work at sex-related businesses like karaoke bars and massage parlors,” said an anti-human trafficking trainer. “The socio-economic situation forced them to sell their bodies. Most times the relatives of the victim have no idea where she is or who took her. It's very difficult to get even a tiny amount of information on the victim.”

Some women were also sent to China to be sold as “wives,” according to social workers.

In the lingering wake of Cyclone Nargis, children are also being trafficked. The Rangoon-based newspaper, Modern Journal, recently reported that children constitute twenty percent of human trafficking victims exposed by the police, according to a high-ranking police official. Some orphans are taken to work as low-paid workers in factories, restaurants and markets.

The US Department of State's “Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 – Burma,” said that in 2008 there was a dramatic increase in the number of unverified reports of forced labor, including forced labor of children, and trafficking in persons.

The report added that, “The military junta's gross economic mismanagement, human rights abuses and its continued widespread use of forced labor are among the top causal factors for Burma's significant trafficking problem.”
 Burma-Thailand ~ Monday, May 3, 2010

Nargis Victims Forced Into Sex Trade


LAPUTTA, Burma: As daylight fades, a teenage girl wearing heavy make-up, a black t-shirt and blue jeans sits on a bench and gazes­with a mix of anticipation and trepidation­along the Rangoon-Laputta Highway.

Dar Dar, 19, is one of scores of young women from Irrawaddy Division who have been forced into prostitution since Cyclone Nargis ravaged the region in 2008. She has waited on the roadside for three hours today without landing a customer.

In this file photo taken on April 25, the villagers line up to fetch water from a lake in Dedaye in Cyclone Nargis-hit delta region. (Photo: AP)

"I am doing this job­selling my body­because my family at home needs to eat," Dar Dar said, while wiping tears from her eyes. "To make 5,000 kyat (US $5), I have to sleep with a man for three hours."

Dar Dar said she lost her father, a fisherman, in the cyclone, and now she feels she must sacrifice her future to take care of her young siblings. She is not alone: the heavy economic burden left in the wake of Nargis has caused many other girls from her village to become sex workers.

"I can make a daily income from this job, so one of my friends joined me,” Dar Dar said. “And my little sister said she would work with me when she's old enough."

Two years have passed since Cyclone Nargis struck the Irrawaddy Division. According to estimates, the cyclone affected [2.5 million of the divisions 7.5 million inhabitants], killed 140,000 people, destroyed 450,000 houses and left 800,000 people homeless.

Many survivors have yet to return to normal lives; they continue to face economic and other hardships such as lack of farmable land, potable water and proper shelter. In the two years after the cyclone, many farmers have been forced to to abandon their land, and fishermen to abandon their nets, to work as day laborers for their daily survival.

“The cyclone destroyed farming, fishing and salt production businesses. Even though rehabilitation work took place, the official rehabilitation period was short and not sufficiently successful,” said Thaung Sein, a resident of A-Sin Chai village, Pyin sub-district, who has 30 years of experience in the fishing business. "Businesses are still not working well, so we can't hire a lot of people.”

According to an editor of a Rangoon-based business journal, many people from Irrawaddy Division, known as a Burma's “rice bowl,” are migrating to other places for better jobs, decreasing the number of rice growers, and therefore employers, in the area.

Ma Thida, 24, from Sit-Twe village, Laputta Township, said that the hard living conditions after Cyclone Nargis have driven people to take any job available.

"Before I worked as a laborer, carrying bricks in Three-Miles Myo-Thit,” she said, spitting out betel-nut juice. “But I ended up working at the massage parlor nearby.”

“Owners of farms and salt production and fishing businesses come to ask for our services at their work-sites every week or 10 days. Then I can make a lot of money," said Ma Thida, adding that other regular customers include farmers who lost their wives in the cyclone.

To help her family, Ma Thida married a widower, who physically abused her.
"I thought I would be better off with him. But in the end I had to work even harder to feed him as well, so I took this job as a sex worker,” Ma Thida said, adding that to make extra money she also waits for customers at the boat jetty during the day.

“At the beginning, being a country girl, I was so ashamed of myself. Who wants to be called a bad woman? Nobody wants to do it. But hand-callused work does not make a good living,” she said, while walking toward two men who just stopped their motorcycle.

Three-Miles Myo-Thit is a new town established on the outskirts of Laputta, which Cyclone Nargis relief money helped modernize. As the town became more crowded, investors started opening pubs, karaoke bars and massage parlors offering the sexual services of young girls. The town is now filled with these establishments and has become a magnet for girls desperately seeking jobs and money.

"There were no such massage parlors or karaoke bars before, so there were only a few girls in the sex business,” said a Laputta businessman. “Now there are many more, and the town has becomes a sort of designated place for them. Of course they won't make as much money as they make in Rangoon."

For that reason, many women in desperate straights head to Rangoon to work in the sex business.

One-third of the girls working at the KTV Massage Parlor in Rangoon came from the Irrawaddy Division after the cyclone, said the KTV manager.

One of those girls, 17 year old Ma Aye Moe, spoke while sitting in a 12-square-foot room, her face barely visible in the dim light cast by one orange bulb.

"I can make money in this business, and more money in Rangoon, so I moved here and found work in a massage parlor,” she said. “When my relatives in my village found out about it, they beat me and kicked me out of the house.”

“I'm not happy here, but I work this job because I can't live in poverty any longer. I'm illiterate, so who else will give me a job?” Ma Aye Moe said, with sorrowful voice, while walking towards the reception room and her waiting customers.

Back on the Rangoon-Laputta highway, Dar Dar stared at a passenger bus leaving for Rangoon.

"People of my village are suffering. My sisters are not getting enough food or going to school, so I can't give up this work." she said. "I'm scared, and I don't want to see or think about my future. But I have to be here to make a living for today, and that is the thought that keeps me alive."

Moments later, a tractor carrying four men rumbled by, and Dar Dar was beckoned on board.